My French book chapter – out now

I was thrilled to receive my hard copy of this new French language book about music criticism in the twentieth century, featuring a chapter written by myself (kindly translated into french by Isabelle Perreault).

This book is the first major synthesis devoted to music criticism in the twentieth century. It explores the different types that music – classical, jazz, rock, song, contemporary music – and all the forms that specialized or generalist music criticism takes. It reviews the main theories and conceptions of music criticism, the typical actors as well as the types and genres they practice. The specificities specific to a given country and such cultural area are also studied. This book is the result of a research program carried out as part of a delegation to the Institut Universitaire de France and produced in partnership with several French and foreign universities. It gathered more than a hundred researchers from various disciplines – literature, languages, musicology, aesthetics, sociology, history or political science – and around thirty critics illustrating all types of music, writing and media. As a main contribution to the cultural history of the twentieth century, it stands out as a major contribution to a reflection on the genre and the practice of criticism in general.  Timothée Picard (dir.)  ISBN 978-2-7535-7920-0 • 1568 p. • 17 x 23 cm • 49 €

Flyer Critique musicale (1)


Colin Lester and Kanya King MBE in conversation at Solent University

On 7th May 2019 the end of year music industry talk at Solent University comprised guest speakers Colin Lester, artist manager of various music acts including Craig David, and Kanya King MBE, founder of the MOBO Awards, in conversation with Prof. Paul Rutter, author of The Music Industry Handbook (2016).  Colin Lester kicked off with a highly informative talk on the death of the album, music streaming, the role of the music agent and the importance of currency conversion for musicians’ income streams.  Kanya King then delved into the fascinating details of her incredible personal journey which ultimately led her to create the MOBO Awards.  King also described the barriers she had faced in bringing her vision for the awards to fruition and illustrated the resilience which she has shown in the face of more recent challenges.

There was certainly no shortage of inspiration to be found here.  The event was not only hugely informative (I took copious notes!) but also served as a great means to help illustrate how some of the theory and history which my colleagues and I teach continues to apply to the music industry on a real-life basis.  The content of the session provided valuable fuel for subsequent discussions with students in seminars and tutorials and it was particularly rewarding to see music students pitching their questions at these well-known industry professionals and receiving honest answers and expert advice in return.

Thanks to all involved for such an inspiring event.

Swinford Museum Exhibition 2019: The Music and Musicians of Filkins and Broughton Poggs


In 2019 I volunteered to research and curate an exhibition about music and musicians for my local community museum in the Cotswolds.  The Swinford Museum typically houses displays relating to rural life and so my music-themed exhibition was to co-exist alongside permanent displays of farming equipment and stonemasonry, a patent reminder of the context for my musicological research.  Twelve months later, the eclectic exhibition was complete and ready to reveal the dynamic history of music’s role within this rural community.  Exhibits included unique vintage musical instruments, early vinyl records, crystal radio sets, school country dance clothing, choristers hymn books, grave decorations and oral histories of war-time singing, folk music and village festivities.

Thank you to everyone who helped with the creation of this years exhibition, whether through contributions of instruments, oral histories, photographs, newspaper clippings, vintage clothing, books, records, music magazines, record players and radios (and anything else which I’ve not listed!).  Special gratitude goes to:

Liz Saul and Lilley Mitchell of BBC Radio Oxford for the radio interviews and publicity for the exhibition.

Morley Harps for the loan of such wonderful vintage instruments, posters and funding contribution for the museum.

Composer Nathan McCree for the kind donation of Tomb Raider CDs and the programme from the world premiere of the Tomb Raider Suite.

Mike Monaghan, drummer extraordinaire, for the photos, videos and recollections of your time rehearsing in Filkins Village Hall.

The family of Glass Animals musician Ed Irwin-Singer for the loan of the poster and ‘cork characters’!

Richard Martin of the Cotswold Woollen Weavers, as always a fountain of knowledge about the history of Filkins and Broughton Poggs.

Trish Poole for the loan of church artefacts and the Filkins hand bell group performances.

Sheila, Ena and Hilary from the village shop and post office for your wonderful recollections which helped to bring the exhibition to life and link past with present.

Kevin Robbins and Peter Blackett for the oral histories of musical events in Filkins from years gone by.

Sheila Henderson, church organist, and Brian Carlick, organ tuner, for the fascinating detail about the church organs in Filkins and Broughton Poggs.

Finally, and most importantly, Diane Blackett, the permanent curator at the heart of the museum, without whom my music-themed exhibition would never have happened; a truly HUGE thanks to Diane.

The exhibition leaflet can be viewed here:

3 way folding leaflet v2

For further details about the museum itself and future exhibitions go to


Join us at Oxford’s 2018 IF Festival

Come and join myself and Dr Jan Butler at Oxford’s IF Festival on Friday 19th October 7-8.30pm at the Wig and Pen (9-13 George Street Oxford, OX1 2AU) for an interactive session based upon the 2010 Squeeze album Spot the Difference.  Get a feel for the complexities of music and copyright and test your close listening skills by participating in our hands-on activities… headphones provided!  It promises to be a fun evening and one which we hope will have you tuning into the fine detail of the music you hear and obsessing over the small print on your music purchases for years to come!


On the ‘rights’ track


I really enjoyed delivering my paper titled ‘On the rights track: song life stories, rights migrations and the priceless ‘original” at this years IASPM UK & Ireland conference in Huddersfield on 3rd September this year.  See the related post for further details about the conference itself and the panel session which I delivered alongside Dr Dai Griffiths and Dr Jan Butler.  Here’s a few pictures to serve as a record of me delivering my paper (photos of me kindly taken and posted on Twitter by my colleague Kirsten Etheridge).  It was a great pleasure to have so many experts in the audience, including Franco Fabbri, Joe Bennett and Richard Osborne whose questions and comments were all very much appreciated.  Thank you for listening.

Jen on stage 1

Jen on stage 2Jen on stage 3


Crosstown Traffic: Panel session 3rd Sept ’18

Here’s a summary of the panel session which I’m delivering with my esteemed colleagues from the Music Dept. at Oxford Brookes University as part of the Crosstown Traffic: Popular Music Theory and Practice, IASPM UK&Ireland Conference, University of Huddersfield, 3rd Sept 2018.  Hope to see you there! For further details about the conference see

Spot the Difference: replication, rights and the musical work

Spot the Difference: The voice of Squeeze and the nature of the (re)recorded musical work

Dr Dai Griffiths, Oxford Brookes University

In 2010 the rock band Squeeze issued an album entitled Spot the Difference.  This consisted of new recordings of tracks that were originally recorded between 1978 and 1993, attempting note and production perfect reproductions of the originals in order to reclaim lost copyrights of the original tracks.  The album is separable from, for example, tribute acts, re-recording for the purpose of better technological quality, or other kinds of re-packaging or re-issue.  This paper sets the scene for this panel of three papers by introducing the overall context of the re-recordings, in terms of Squeeze’s career and outlining the rationale for the selection of tracks included on Spot the Difference. In this paper, the album is positioned in the context of studies of the nature of the musical work and of intertextuality. In particular, while the songs themselves and instrumental resources can be replicated, the distinctive voices of Squeeze’s recordings elude replication.


Spot the Difference: Reproduction, re-recording and the reimagining of historic tracks

Dr Jan Butler, Oxford Brookes University

Shifting away from the contextual focus of the opening paper, this paper focusses upon the auditory life stories of the tracks on Spot the Difference.  Musical examples will be played to illustrate the aural evolution of the tracks from original versions, dating back to the 1970s in most cases, through various transformations over time through multiple formats, re-releases and remasters, ending with the 2010 versions.  As well as being analysed through close listening, the difference between the tracks have been ‘spotted’ by Joe Turner by graphically analysing the recordings through adobe audition.  Examples of Joe’s ‘graphic analyses’ of the tracks will be presented here, alongside evidence regarding the production and re-recording process drawn from interviews with Chris Difford and other key personnel involved in the album’s creation.


Spot the Difference: On the rights track: Song histories, rights migrations and the ‘priceless’ original

Dr Jennifer Skellington, Oxford Brookes University

This final paper in the panel session begins by offering detailed rights histories of the tracks included on Spot the Difference.  In doing so, it will show how the songs have migrated from publisher to publisher over time, how new rights have been created, how each of the songs have been exploited over the years and the implications of these events, not least for the members of Squeeze themselves.  To complement the evidence gleaned from historical and archived data, the paper draws upon quantitative and qualitative discoveries about the songs gleaned from a database built for the purposes of this study and, as with the previous papers in this panel, includes relevant content from research interviews with Chris Difford and other personnel who participated in the creation of Spot the Difference.  The paper, and the panel session, closes with a consideration of the lessons which might be learned from this exceptional album, and the implications for other artists who might consider embarking upon a similar musical undertaking.


New Power Generation: 2018 Common People Oxford

NPG logo

The artist formerly known as Prince had been one of my teenage idols from around the mid 1980s up until around the time of his 1992 Love Symbol Album; the combination of his music, lyrics, dance routines, exuberant clothing and all-round showmanship really packed a punch for me.  So it’s fair to say that I was gutted to hear of his passing back in 2016; sometimes it really does snow in April, to use the words of the great man himself.

I had seen Prince (when he was known as such) perform live many years ago at Wembley Arena, and watched his movies Purple Rain (1984) and Under the Cherry Moon (1986) countless times in my youth.  So when I heard that his former backing band, The New Power Generation (NPG), were set to appear locally at Oxford’s Common People festival this year I bagged myself a ticket without delay

I sure felt envious of the ‘approved’ photographer who’s secured himself access to that hallowed gap which separates audience from famed folks on stage, but I figured that having secured and defended my front row position for almost an hour, just right of centre stage, that I had faired only slightly less favourably than the official guy with the swanky camera.  Indeed upon reviewing my photographic  gatherings the next morning I was extremely pleased with my image collection (I bet they were better than yours ‘pro camera’ guy), and would love to share my favourites here, but I read something about copyright and live music images the other day which is making me err on the side of caution, for now.

Musically, NPG’s dirty bass lines still packed a real punch, You Sexy MF being a particular case in point.  Where Prince’s absent vocals were most conspicuous the group simply held the mic out to the audience resulting in a collective attempt at standing in for the great man, a strategy which was most effective in the case of Nothing Compares to You (most of the audience thus left simultaneously singing and crying).  The group very much framed the performance as a tribute to Prince and frequently brandished heart shaped hand symbols to denote love and indebtedness to Prince.

Commemorative sentiments aside though, I can honestly say that these guys were the most exciting live act I’ve seen in over a decade.  They are not young men by any stretch of the imagination, but boy could they move.  Prince’s unique vocals are irreplaceable, and it was great that their new front man didn’t try to emulate them.  Arguably the songs which the NPG performed are so ingrained in the public consciousness that the audience could still ‘hear’ Prince anyway, but hats off to the rest of the group for taking turns at stepping in to sing up front.  Vocally, the new front man really doesn’t compare to you Prince, but there’s no denying he has the right spirit; he’s got the look, he’s got the hook, he sho’nuf do be cookin’ in my book.  Thanks NPG for helping to keep Prince’s music alive.  I’d watch you every day of the week if I could.

Vintage Henry Hall Song Book

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I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to go rummaging through dusty boxes of books and magazines at car boot sales, flea markets and charity shops, but for me it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. To my mind, there’s nothing better than seeking out and finding vintage popular music-related treasures among the dust and clutter, then bringing them home to be preserved and their history researched. So it is in the spirit of sharing my excitement with these finds that I will continue to document some of my ‘treasures’ on this site, in the certainty that I am not alone in my slightly obscure pastime and fascination with pop’s past. As a starter for ten, I’ll write a few words on Henry Hall’s Souvenir Song Book, published in 1937.

This wonderful little book, presented free with the popular magazine Answers, week ending October 2nd 1937, contains a fascinating page-long introduction by conductor Henry Hall offering insights into what he estimates to have been nearly four thousand hours at the microphone over the space of his thirteen year career, five and a half years of which were spent as leader of the BBC Dance Orchestra. He begins by revealing his personal satisfaction at having introduced what must have been a hundred thousand tunes to his audiences, admitting “there is even greater satisfaction in discovering them (new tunes), in putting on the air the many numbers which reached the public for the first time through me”. Hall recalls how he had occasionally been very slow to recognise the merit of a tune which afterwards proved to be a best seller, and offers some cases in point.   For example, speaking of “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing”, Hall writes:

“I quite liked the original manuscript and had it orchestrated. But when the band played it the general effect sounded dreadful. So I scrapped the band “arrangement” and had another made; but this proved to be worse than the first and the result was an incredibly awful din so, being only human and a band leader, I decided to have nothing more to do with it. But song-writers don’t like their tunes to die such an unnatural death. The men who wrote “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing”, Stanley Damerell and Tolchard Evans, came down to Broadcasting House and begged me to have another shot at the number. Yielding to their agitations, I had another orchestration made, this time a very simple one indeed. And I don’t have to tell you the result!”

After outlining similar examples of songs which he initially failed to value as hits, including “Underneath the Arches”, “Play to Me, Gipsy”, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” and “On a Steamer Coming Over”, Hall concludes “Great band leaders can be wrong” and that “a good song, in common with Shakespeare’s rose, does not have to depend on its name”.

It’s a great little souvenir of a once household name in popular music and one hopes that at some point in its lifespan it would have been at the centre of some musical gathering, perhaps family members or groups of friends singing songs around a piano at seasonal or personal celebrations. But for now at least it is safely housed alongside my collection of vintage magazines and newspapers. The new home for this little gem is also particularly apt since Answers magazine was launched by Alfred Harmsworth (in 1888), who was later to become Lord Northcliffe, founder of the Daily Mail and owner of The Times. Answers magazine was aimed at a new demographic of younger readers and its commercial success, alongside publications like Tit-Bits and Illustrated London, arguably helped lay the foundations for a new mode of journalism in tabloid newspapers.   So it’s interesting to see how, even then, popular music-related material was being used to help draw in younger readers, long before the broadsheet press adopted a similar strategy in the late 1980s (see Skellington, J (2010) at: This great little free songbook (although it cost me 20p!) therefore offers valuable insights into the early relationship between popular music and English magazines and newspapers, and thus becomes the most recent addition to my hoard of vintage teaching props.

Source: ‘Henry Hall’s Souvenir Song Book: the Years of Radio Rhythm 1932 – 1937’, Answers, (The Amalgamated Press: London). Week ending 2nd October, 1937.

Is it just me or does this building distinctly resemble an LP?

IMG_2219I photographed this quirky concrete building at the Aire Du Jura service station in France earlier this year.  The building itself is named the Circles Pavilion and this wonderful example of brutalist architecture houses a number of interesting and informative exhibitions, including one on the production and history of the local comté cheese. Despite my initial assumption that each side of the building was intended to look like a giant vinyl record (and no doubt the nature of my work seriously influenced my judgement here!) it is in fact intended to represent two intertwined barrels, with the superposition of circles intended to evoke the metal rings used to hold salt barrels together.   But no matter how hard I try to see barrels, it most definitely looks like an LP to me.

Giving pop the chop


Would anyone choose to slice their vegetables and prepare their meals on a vinyl record? The designers at Joseph seem pretty convinced that many of us would. I received one of these glossy, black (plastic) vinyl-record style cutting boards as a gift recently and am still struggling to accept the item both as a physical artefact and concept. Anyone old enough to remember buying vinyl records might, like me, feel somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of brandishing a knife near such a thing. Sure, I know it’s not a real record, and I know it’s designed as a work surface saver and so theoretically is built to withstand the scratches and scrapes inevitable in the lifecycle of a chopping board. So should I display it and not use it then? Certainly, as some of its owners on Amazon proclaim, it’s best kept as a decorative item, hopefully bestowing a moderate measure of cultural capital upon its owner and perhaps even adding a little je ne sais quoi to their culinary creations. For me though it’s just another example of what Simon Reynolds has labelled ‘retromania’, a response to the trend which sees us longing for the past, in an age of hipsters, vintage chic and retro fashion. But that’s exactly the problem for me, it’s NOT a record, and it’s definitely not vintage, so how can it bestow value, even as a symbolic item? The semiotics of popular music, along with its many genres and subgenres are complex and ever-changing, but it’s clear that this item is meant to act as an eye-arresting, although hopelessly silent and static, nod to the hip associations of popular music. For me, a vinyl record is one thing and a cutting board is another; I’m afraid to say I’ll be giving this one the chop.